Kurt Schaefer finished high school 1941 in Vienna. He then was enlisted into the “Reich Labor Service” and in 1942 in the German “Wehrmacht” (army). As a radio operator in the German air force, he was stationed on the Italian airport of Grosseto (Tuscany), where there was an Air Force Torpedo School. The tasks of his unit also included an air traffic control services ship, which was located in the port of Porto Santo Stefano in Orbetello, north of Civitavecchia. The Marina di Grosseto was the first diving area of Schaefer, which he visited during his free time. When the sea was cloudy due to rough seas, he plunged into the mouth of the river Ombrone.
Here Schaefer, also inspired by the books of Hans Hass, had the idea to photograph and film under water. In 1942 he made first construction detail sketches for an underwater camera that did not need an additional waterproof housing. This method was new, because, up to this point, cameras were mounted into in waterproof housings. This had significant disadvantages, because in addition to the bulkiness of the device only a few camera settings from the outside could be served, so that these cameras were of limited use.
In 1943 Schaefer designed and manufactured an aluminum housing with waterproof shafts and glands, which replaced the standard plastic case of a Kodak movie camera. This allowed the camera to be used without having to mount it into a housing, either over or under water. The big advantage was that the camera was minimal in size and with easy handling could be opened to insert a new film roll. Up to then, this procedure was much more complicated and time consuming, requiring the removal of a camera which was mounted into a water tight housing.
Although due to the war no usable underwater film could be made with this camera, Schaefer’s 1943 construction is considered to be the first modern amphibious underwater film camera. She had the name "M8 / 1". The acronym stands for Marina System Schaefer ( "M"), 8mm film format ( "8"), first version ( "/ 1"). The construction was Patented in 1954 several years before Jean de Wouters had designed and patented his “Calypsophot” (which was submitted in 1958 and approved in 1961 – read more here )
In the fall of 1943 Schaefer informed Hans Hass in a letter about his new invention and was invited by Hass to Berlin. Finally in April 1944 during a holiday Schefer and Hass met for the first time. Hass recognized the technical talent of Schaefer and the new opportunities that arose. They agreed on a development partnership for underwater photography and -cinematographic cameras. Schaefer hoped to be able to join one of the next Hass expeditions and therefore had not asked for any payment for his service.
In addition to improving his camera design in 1944, Schaefer wrote a screenplay for an underwater cartoon film he wanted to produce for Ufa together with Hans Hass, and created the associated figures. The film was not realized until after the war.
After the war, Schaefer was employed on the former boatyard Abeking & Rassmusen in Gmunden. In 1946 he began studying architecture at the Technical University in Vienna, where he 1954 successfully completed a diploma. The long study period is explained by the fact that in during this time he constructed more innovative underwater photo and cinematographic cameras - with and without under water housings -for himself and Hans Hass (e.g.: underwater Leica and underwater Siemens cameras). He also carried out under water pole architectural research in the Austrian Alpine lakes (Attersee , Mondsee, Keutschachersee, 1949-1951) which he documented in his movie ( "Traces of Antiquity", 1951) and, following his separation from Hans Hass, he participated as a cameraman in an expedition of the University of Vienna lead by the Austrian marine biologist Rupert Riedl ( " Austrian Tyrrhenia expedition 1952 ").
The color film "Lights Under Water - Wonders of the Sea", which was taken in undersea caves of Sorrento in 1952 during the expedition with Riedl to Capri was produced in the Agfa-color process and is one of the first ever underwater color films. For illuminating the sea caves Schaefer had developed special spot lights, which also represented a novelty. Some of Schaefer’s inventions were patented.
From several trips to the Adriatic with his expedition boat TERESA II emerged Schaefer’s underwater films "The Blue Garden" and "Landlubbers, Sea Breeze and Little Fish." In the Vienna Urania Schaefer successfully showed, along with his films, never before seen 6x6 underwater photos at a scale of 1: 2 and 1: 1. In the 1960s Kurt Schaefer cameras were used to cinematically document the search of Nazi treasures in Toplitzsee.
Schaefer’s macro cameras were a sensation, they have a 6 cm (2,7 inches) depth of field in 1:1 scale! The lens was of his own construction and is revered even today.
After the war, Schaefer improved and successfully tested his waterproof 8mm movie camera.. He then moved to the 16mm format, which was more suitable for professional movies. With the increasing crowd of scuba divers Schaefer’s 8mm camera for the amateur diver was interesting again. In 1966 he showed the Austrian camera manufacturer Eumig his amphibious 8mm underwater film camera. There was nothing like it on the market. Without aknowledging the construction work of Schaefer, and without a license agreement with him, Eumig launched a waterproof film camera for Super-8 under the product name "Eumig Nautica" in 1979 as a world novelty. The case was never legally resolved because Eumig went bankrupt in 1982.
Besides underwater film, Schaefer worked on other submarine designs: In 1978, as an architect in the design office of the Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer, he designed , as part of a project by Hans Hass, an underwater station for the southern Spanish coast at Almeria. It was never built.
After retiring from his professional activity, Schaefer concluded in late 1983 his already begun dissertation on historic wooden ship construction on the river Danube at the Technical University of Vienna to Dr. Techn, with honours.
The other areas of Schaefer’s work included several publications in scientific journals, serials for museums, participation in exhibition catalogs, exhibitions, museum design, scientific modeling, ship reconstructions and supplementations of his former research.
Most of his underwater camera models and prototypes are today, together with the underwater cameras of Hans Hass, shown at the Aquazoo - Löbbecke Museum in a permanent exhibition.